Do not fear. This the Bible's most frequent command. Clearly, God knew fear would be a substantial problem for us. But do we really understand how self-destructive it is?
There are numerous places one could go in the Scriptures to find illumination on the topic of fear. Perhaps the longest sustained treatment of it is found in Numbers 13-14. We'll camp out in this passage over the next few weeks as we see what God has to say about it. A summary of this well-known story is needed to get our bearings.
God has freed Israel from slavery in Egypt. They have been wandering the Sinai peninsula for years and are on the precipice of finding a new home and laying down roots. In preparation for the challenge that lay ahead, God instructs Moses to send scouts into the Promised Land as a sort of reconnaissance mission. They discover the land is just as God said it would be. It's a land flourishing and vital, but it's not without hurdles. The people there are strong. They live in large, fortified cities. Taking possession of the land won’t be a cakewalk. This is the straightforward report from scout leaders Joshua and Caleb.
The reaction from the other ten scouts is striking...
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. - Numbers 13:31-32
So here begins four effects of fear. We'll consider one today: fear distorts reality.
The posture of fear in the ten scouts results in exaggeration. The land "devours its inhabitants." "ALL the people we saw in it are of great height."
Fear distorts reality. The ten who succumbed to fear are no longer seeing reality as it is, but rather a distorted version of it. If you trace this out far enough you’ll realize, fear prevents you from making good decisions. Fear prevents you from discerning situations appropriately. Fear is an impediment to wisdom because wisdom relies on us seeing things as they are.
The organization Kekst CNC conducted a poll of U.S. adults. Respondents were asked how many people had died nationally from COVID-19. The mean response was 9%. While we agree with Jesus that death, no matter the number, is outrageous (See John 11), it is striking the average American believes 30 million Americans have died from COVID so far - 225x the actual number. Fear has done its job. It has exaggerated the danger and distorted reality.
Once the foundation of reality distortion is in place, the next step is as logical as it is tragic: irrational responses. We'll see this with great clarity in our story from Numbers next time.
Do not fear.
This is the Scriptures' most frequent command. Clearly, God knew fear would be a substantial problem for us. The past five months have revealed just that. Our fear of COVID, social unrest, and political outcomes have been the chief presenting symptom indicating an underlying disease. I would contend that for the past five months God has been conducting a PET scan and it's revealed a cancer among American evangelicals. The cancer of unbelief which is the taproot that feeds and nourishes fear. If we cut away all the Christian-speak, platitudes, and excuses, American evangelicals have a fundamental distrust in God's plan for our lives. "...all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Ps. 139:16). We would much prefer our days to have been written in our book. At least then, they would be controllable. But as the verse reads, God calls the shots and we're uneasy about that.
In the end, I believe God revealing the sin of unbelief to us will prove to be a great mercy. Without these past five months, we may have continued on assuming everything is just fine not knowing we're suffering from a debilitating spiritual disease. But now that he's allowed us to come face to face with a diagnosis, we have a responsibility to seek treatment. Many already are. It's been refreshing to hear personal stories of the Lord challenging individuals to press into the things that have caused them great fear in the past and stepping out in faith knowing their lives are not their own. May we all grow in that direction!
In order to do so, we need to come to grips with the true nature of the problem because getting that right is the prerequisite to a solution that actually works. This is the terrain we'll be covering in the posts to come.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9